William Morrow, 2006, 387 pages
Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy. A little hapless, somewhat neurotic, sort of a hypochondriac. He's what's known as a Beta Male: the kind of fellow who makes his way through life by being careful and constant, you know, the one who's always there to pick up the pieces when the girl gets dumped by the bigger/taller/stronger Alpha Male.
But Charlie's been lucky. He owns a building in the heart of San Francisco, and runs a secondhand store with the help of a couple of loyal, if marginally insane, employees. He's married to a bright and pretty woman who actually loves him for his normalcy. And she, Rachel, is about to have their first child.
Yes, Charlie's doing okay for a Beta. That is, until the day his daughter, Sophie, is born. Just as Charlie, exhausted from the birth, turns to go home, he sees a strange man in mint-green golf wear at Rachel's hospital bedside, a man who claims that no one should be able to see him. But see him Charlie does, and from here on out, things get really weird.
People start dropping dead around him, giant ravens perch on his building, and it seems that everywhere he goes, a dark presence whispers to him from under the streets. Strange names start appearing on his nightstand notepad, and before he knows it, those people end up dead, too. Yup, it seems that Charlie Asher has been recruited for a new job, an unpleasant but utterly necessary one: Death. It's a dirty job. But hey, somebody's gotta do it.
I admit, I went into this book knowing I was probably going to find it annoying, and I did, for the reasons advertised in the book's blurb: Charlie Asher is a "beta male," which the author explains at length in what I suppose is meant to be a humorous take on pop ev-psych theory (you know, about how Alpha Males went charging after mammoths and tigers to kill them, while the smarter Beta Males stayed home and consoled their widows), but it just meant that Charlie Asher was the kind of whiny, spineless, neurotic schmuck who scores a babe way above his league and spends the entire book moaning about it. Of course at crucial moments, when sufficiently motivated by love for his daughter or his dead wife's memory, he musters the courage to go fight Big Bads, but most of the time he just whines and cringes and I wished he'd fucking die.
Well, I did kind of get my wish.
Aside from a completely unadmirable protagonist, A Dirty Job was perfectly adequate, mildly amusing urban fantasy in a humorous vein, rather like Buffy-Lite. Charlie's wife tragically dies in childbirth, leaving him to raise his little girl with only the help of his lesbian sister (who is far more badass than Charlie and apparently inherited all the testosterone in the family), a bevy of fierce multi-ethnic women neighbors, and a pair of 400 pound Hell-Hounds who show up shortly after Charlie discovers he is a Death. Not The Death, just a Death. He lives in San Francisco and there are, like, twelve guys like him who can tell when someone is supposed to die, and who are also responsible for transferring the random objects that end up holding the souls of the deceased to living people who need souls. There is, in due course, explanation of this cosmology, but mostly it's a pretext for Charlie and friends to go on MacGuffin hunts all over San Francisco, the author to write absurdist scenes about a trophy wife whose breast implants become the mystically glowing red repositories of someone's soul, and for Charlie to have girls far too hot for him offering to do him, and for him to be a Nice Guy schmuck.
There was also some stuff about underworld death gods living in the sewers and plotting to rise and bathe the world in fire and blood, when they aren't whining about getting hit by cars.
So, this book was okay. Mildly amusing. It does that thing so many modern authors do where all the woman are fierce and badass and clever and totally in control of their sexuality and men are all drooling schlubs who only manage to get laid when some fierce, badass, clever chick takes pity on them. As an urban fantasy, it's too fluffy, and as humorous fantasy, Christopher Moore is a pale shadow of Terry Pratchett. I might listen to another book in the series if I'm in the mood for bubble gum.
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